Space is one of the two fundamental dimensions of reality, the other being time. As a concept in global studies, space informs discourses on the changing scalar contexts and locational conditions of a wide range of economic, political, social, cultural, and environmental phenomena. Although the idea of space is universally applicable, some disciplines have long put space at the center of their field of study, most notably architecture, art, geography, geometry, philosophy, planning, and topology.
A debate on the nature of space that emerged in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries has provided a foundation to subsequent discourses. Isaac Newton held that space was absolute and elemental to the universe. As such it pre-existed the emergence of life and served as a fixed container for the objects and events that arrived later, including all human forms and activities. Gottfried Leibniz argued that space was not a permanent stage upon which life took place, but a field that emerged among subjects and objects that stood in relation to each other. For Leibniz, space was produced rather than predetermined.
Later in the eighteenth century, Immanuel Kant neatly bridged this divide somewhat by positing that space and time did not exist materially, as Newton would have it, but were conditions that were immanent to human perception. Furthermore, if space was produced through the interaction of subjects and objects, as Leibniz hypothesized, this interaction was structured by an innate spatial and temporal orientation of human intellect.
Contemplations on the nature of space did not begin in the modern period, however. Early works of cartography reveal a clear conceptualization and deployment of various types of space. In the ancient Greek tradition there were two kinds of space, choros and topos. The former referred to the more locational aspects of space while the latter dealt with its more descriptive qualities. Chorography was the practice of delimiting large and more or less geometrically regular spaces on the surface of the Earth, while topography concerned itself with describing particular features within those spaces. Ancient Greeks and Romans made a distinction between general and particular spaces, their maps showing the first with the use of a geometrical grid and the second with more artistic renderings of specific characteristics of the territory being represented. Representations of the oikumene, the inhabited world, emerged from this era.
Maps and other documents from the Song Dynasty in China (960–1269) and the Almoravid Empire in the Mediterranean (1053–1147) show a continued and widespread understanding of space in both its generalizable and specifiable forms, and their narrative and graphic depictions of it reveal an increasing technical capacity to represent it, not to mention a growing knowledge of the spatial extension of the world and its specific attributes.
European exploration of the world from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries greatly accelerated developments in the art and science of cartography. Discourses on space during this period reveal an enhanced concern for the link between political power and space, particularly as power was seized through the depiction of space via geographic and cartographic means. Halford Mackinder’s heartland model of world domination, Isaiah Bowman’s empirical approach to statehood and territoriality, Friedrich Ratzel’s theory of Lebensraum or “living space,” and Jean Gottmann’s model of the megalopolis all grew out of this twentieth-century need to reckon the connection between political power and space in a rapidly globalizing world.
This concern prevails through to contemporary discussions of similar geopolitical topics such as hegemony and sovereignty under conditions of increased global connectivity. Concurrent to these intellectual engagements with governance and statehood are related dialogues on international industry and trade, transnational migration and assimilation, and cultural hybridization and resistance that are immanent to the process of globalization. Production and consumption via global commodity chains, the doubling of world population in the past 70 years, and the wide dispersion of media products through computer and satellite technology, not to mention the fall of empires (British and Soviet) and the rise of the supranational states and international trade agreements (European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)), are all developments that are fundamentally spatial in character.
Cities were a topic of major concern for twentieth-century spatial theorists. Walter Christaller’s central place theory, Johann Heinrich von Thünen’s agricultural land use model, and Ernest Burgess and Robert Park’s concentric zone model made strong marks on twentieth planning practices and influenced economic and sociological theory for decades to follow. Later work charted the rise of global cities as nodes in a network that located economic and political power not in territories but in an international skein of flows and relations. Strong contributors to the field include Ashe Amin and Nigel Thrift (1992) and Neil Brenner (2001).
In addition to being a dimension in which globalization occurs, space is also represented as a realm of resistance. Henri Lefebvre advocated the production of “spaces of representation” to counter “representations of space” and “spatial practices” of capital that sought to colonize concrete space, the space of everyday life.
SEE ALSO: Landscapes; Place; scales of globalization; Space of Flows/Space of Place; Spatiality.
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